It might come as a surprise that I’ve chosen this topic as a closing item to my recent ‘personal changes’ series of blogs, yet, I promise, it’s probably no less important than eliminating plastic bags, reducing car usage by 20%, or joining the growing numbers of Meat Free Mondays. I say this because most of our society is based on retail, so any positive changes we make in this area can have a substantial effect, and because retail is a gas guzzling component of our society, so it’s even more important we do something to keep it in check.
Many environmentally minded folk will have already paid this issue some heed. Working on a local Friends of the Earth stall today, one of the women we spoke to wanted us to record her feelings about supermarkets leaving their doors open, and rightly so. The practice is exceedingly wasteful, as it means that air conditioning during the summer, and heating during the winter, have to work full blast to keep the supermarket at ‘optimum’ consumer temperature (whatever that is). Another issue (and regular eyesore) is the lighting used in retail, often left on over night. Street lights may brighten our way, but do we really need shop lights to stay on over night? Do they really make any one safer? Or entice back that many shoppers for the following day? And when it comes to supermarkets, do all the lights really have to stay on?
I’m inclined to say no. In fact, I think this kind of energy wastage is akin to retailers sticking the finger up at anyone who diligently unplugs their chargers, turns their gadgets off standby, and switches off every light at night. Needless to say, retail needs an environmental make over, but it’s the customers who have to send that message.
But what good will the suggestion that we order online instead do? Well, it could do a lot of good. Taking (once again) from Monbiot’s Heat, Monbiot reveals that warehouses use around 64 kWh p/m2* to heat space and water, and 81 kWh p/ m2 of electricity. These figures are minimal compared to the 185 and 275 that retail chalk up, respectively. The huge difference between these figures is purely down to what retailers consider to be appealing to customers. For instance, an anonymous senior manager from one of the big UK supermarket chains discloses to Monbiot that they use high power heaters above the door, high intensity lights in the isles, spotlights to illuminate the counters, ‘ceramic discharge metal halide lamps’ over fish to make them ‘sparkle’, open top freezers (closed-door freezers have been shown, he insists, to limit sales as they can steam up if opened for even a short while) and ventilation units. In comparison, it’s obviously why a warehouses’ energy needs are so much more moderate, even though they may contain the same products.
So, an increased trend of online shopping could see demand for supermarket buildings decrease, and cause retailers to fall back on their more environmentally sound warehouses. Using online shopping services also means you have one less journey to make, and, if you live in a built up area you are only adding your delivery to a series of others, meaning the carbon you would have used driving has been cut as well as traffic volume. Plenty of reasons to move on to online deliveries.
Except for one.
Where, in all my other ‘personal changes’ posts, I can hold my hands up and say ‘I do this’ (I don’t consume any meat, I do try to use public transport and my bike for 20% of my journeys, I don’t use plastic bags), I can’t make such a claim in reference to this post, although it is something I mean to introduce. However, my last experience of shopping online brought me a wealth of unwanted plastic shopping bags containing my deliveries. If this practise hasn’t stopped, it puts my posts and advice at odds with one another as cutting plastic is also extremely important. My advice in this case is either: to try to ditch supermarkets all together, order from the many organic veg companies popping up around the country who deliver recyclable containers, or, to make a fuss and try to stop the supermarkets from using plastic bags. Both methods will be working towards the main goal: to make small personal changes, that can have a positive affect on the environment.
* Kilowatt per meter squared.